Men bottle up their problems for fear of being ridiculed

A man’s coping mechanism is to repress the issue and pretend that everything is okay. 

Photo credit: Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The greatest fear for most men, says Mbevi, is the fear of failure.
  • “If a man fears that he may fail, he would rather not try at all – banish this fear, be determined to overcome what you’re going through.”

The heartbreaking video of Kenya’s Daniel Adongo, the former rugby player who would go on to play for the NFL was bound to elicit lots of debate. It showed the talented young man smoking marijuana, looking disheveled and unwell, a far cry from the impressive sportsman that had the world on the palm of his hand just a few years ago.

The debate would turn to what some claimed was the inability of men to share their problems, a factor that led to depression, a debate that went on for the better part of Friday and Saturday last week when Ciku Mururi, a former radio presenter, wondered, on her Facebook page, whether men talked about their problems like women did.

Who do men talk to?

She wrote, “Who do you talk to when your wife is cheating on you? Who do share with when you have no money? Not your friends. They are there for sports and deals. You will never let them see you cry. Who do you talk to if you feel broken?”

Pastor Simon Mbevi would probably be the best person to answer these questions considering the fact that he has counselled thousands of Kenyan men going through a variety of challenges for years now. Mbevi is the man behind a men’s program known as Man Enough that was launched in 2012, and which had graduated over 20,000 men as of 2019. He says that generally, compared to women, men tend not to talk about their problems. He explains that it partly has to do with how they were brought up, how they were socialised.

Taught to be tough

“In our society, men are taught to be tough, they are told that a man does not cry or go announcing his problems, that a real man keeps his hurt and disappointment to himself - vulnerability, in a man, is viewed as weak, and so men would rather hide their struggles and troubles rather than talk about them,” he says, giving an example of when the Deputy President William Ruto was overcome by emotion and broke down and wept in public, an act that invited lots of ridicule from Kenyans who wondered what sought of man he was to show emotion associated with women.

Such reactions, points out Mbevi, is why most men find it difficult to open up even to their fellow men, men, he observes, generally do not feel safe enough to open up, but if they had a safe place where they felt comfortable enough to bare their souls, they would do it, a place where they will not feel judged.

He says, “The fact is that it is easier for a woman to get permission to break down and cry, a man would be judged and looked down on. Think about it, if you walked in and found your female boss crying, you would probably be empathetic and make an effort to find out what the problem is and how you can help her, but if you found your male boss with his head on the table crying, you’d be embarrassed and at a loss of what to do, even wonder what kind of man he is.”

Men, he points out, are most likely to talk about general problems, say work-related issues or money problems, but are unlikely to talk about very personal ones such as sexual struggles, for instance low libido because such personal matters invite judgement on the person.

Coping mechanism

A man’s coping mechanism is to repress the issue and pretend that everything is okay, or project it on others through anger, violence, abusing alcohol and drugs and sex as a way of distracting himself from his problems.

But there is a way of coping, there is a way out. He calls it the ABCD.

The greatest fear for men

The first is to accept that what you are going through is a reality that others go through, that you are not the only one going through the challenge and that it is not a weakness. The second is to break free. Look for a way out. If it is alcoholism, find help, even if it takes finding a therapist to help you out. The third is community. Find a safe and supportive space made up of men that are going through a struggle, or that seek to be better men. When one man shares about their struggle, it emboldens others to share theirs, lightening the burden. Such groups also keep you accountable. The fourth is determination. The greatest fear for most men, says Mbevi, is the fear of failure.

“If a man fears that he may fail, he would rather not try at all – banish this fear, be determined to overcome what you’re going through.”